NAO to judge ‘value for money’ of rural broadband scheme

The independent auditor promises a report by the end of summer on DCMS' handling of BDUK broadband scheme

The National Audit Office (NAO) is to investigate the government’s broadband scheme to see if it “assured value for money.”

The £530m project run by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the specially formed BDUK organisation, aims to give Britain the best broadband in Europe by 2015, bringing superfast fibre to 90% of the UK and providing 2Mbps connectivity for all by the deadline.

The NAO would not say why it had decided to look into the roll-out, referring only to its published statement.

“This report [will] examine how well the department has designed the rural broadband programme and the extent to which its safeguards assure value for money,” it said. “It also considers whether the 2015 targets for rural broadband provision are likely to be met.”

Although a specific date has not been set for the publication of the report, a spokeswoman confirmed it would be released by the end of the summer.

The NAO announcement comes on the same day DCMS published new guidance for telecoms companies and local authorities involved in the scheme to “increase the pace of superfast broadband roll-out.”

The department ran a consultation for six weeks earlier in the year to ask those involved how common issues like powering cabinets, organising street works or dealing with planning permissions could be overcome to help boost the speed of broadband deployment.

The new guidance focuses on proposals around regulations that require telecoms providers to gain planning permission to install broadband cabinets or underground cabling from local authorities. It recommended these rules should be removed for the next five years - except for sites of special scientific interest – to speed up the deployment timetable and cut costs.

The BDUK programme has stirred controversy after it became clear that BT was the only company eligible and willing to bid for funding from the £530m pot. The telecoms giant has subsequently won numerous contracts for the provision of rural broadband using BDUK cash.

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